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A Miami-Dade jury throttled Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Silversea Cruises by awarding $4.2 million in compensatory damages to a former employee injured aboard one of the company’s luxury ships. A Silversea attorney said he was shocked by the verdict returned Friday and vowed to fight it with post-trial motions and, if necessary, an appeal to the 3rd District Court of Appeal. Brunhilde Ammann, a 51-year-old housekeeping manager on the company’s Silver Wind cruise ship, claimed that she severely injured her back when she moved several boxes of National Geographic magazines during a November 1998 voyage from Kenya to South Africa. Luis N. Perez and Javier J. Rodriguez, partners at Perez Goran & Rodriguez in Coral Gables, Fla., represented Ammann. The cruise line was represented by Timothy W. Ross and Darren Friedman, a partner and associate in the Miami office of San Diego-based maritime defense firm Kaye Rose & Maltzman. Silversea is a Fort Lauderdale-based cruise line that has been sailing since the early 1990s. The line focuses on the ultra-luxury segment of the business and operates four “smaller, intimate vessels” that go into “exotic ports off the beaten path,” according to the company’s Web site. Silversea is owned by the Lefebvre family of Rome, Italy, former owner of Sitmar Cruises. A German citizen who lives in South Africa, Ammann filed suit in May 2000 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court under the Jones Act, a 1920 federal statute that entitles seafarers to recover damages for injuries in the course of their employment by the negligence of the owner. Ammann claimed the injury occurred when she walked into her office and found boxes of magazines blocking her path. She said her effort to move the boxes occurred in the course of her employment and that she suffered a severely herniated disc that has required two operations, has forced her to leave her job and has left her in constant back pain that prevents her from sitting upright in a chair for longer than 45 minutes. She alleged that the boxes had been negligently placed in her office, that she had not been taught how to lift the boxes properly and that she received negligent medical care aboard ship. Ammann is currently unemployed and living off savings, according to attorney Perez. Both sides agreed at trial that Ammann severely injured her back but they disagreed on the cause and the liability. Silversea argued that Ammann reported back pain prior to the alleged accident and it was far from clear that moving the magazines accounted for her severe injury. The luxury cruise company argued that it was not liable because Ammann was under no obligation to move the boxes and chose to do so on her own. Silversea also disputed her contention that it provided inadequate medical care to her. After a three-day trial before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne, the six-person jury came down squarely on the side of Ammann. Following three hours of deliberation the six-person jury awarded Ammann $576,000 for past and future earnings, $150,000 for future medical expenses, and $3.5 million for pain and suffering. All past medical costs were already paid by Silversea, Ross said. “The jury listened carefully to the evidence and found [my client] credible,” Perez said. Both Ammann and Silversea called three witnesses each. Ross said he planned to ask for a mistrial because, he argued, Ammann cried uncontrollably while sitting at counsel table, which may have prejudiced the jury. Perez said Ammann scarcely cried at all. The large pain and suffering award particularly galls Silversea. Ross said he plans to file a post-trial motion asking Cardonne to reduce the jury award. According to Ross, Ammann’s attorneys had asked for pain and suffering between $250,000 and $500,000. Instead, the jury awarded an amount seven times larger than the high end of the damages range requested. Perez said the amount was a suggestion rather than a request. “We believe both the finding of liability and the amount of the verdict shocked everyone in the courtroom,” Ross said. “We intend to vigorously contest both.” Several big jury verdicts have been reduced or erased by judges in recent months. Miami-Dade Circuit Jennifer D. Bailey set aside a $6 million negligence verdict last month against a high school athlete who punched an elderly driver in the face after a traffic accident and left the man brain damaged. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Fredricka G. Smith reduced a $5.5 million verdict in a flight attendant secondhand smoke case to $500,000 less than two weeks ago.

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